One consistent feature of West Virginia’s Archery in the Schools tournament is that it generates “feel-good” stories.
This year’s tourney spun off several make-you-smile storylines, not the least of which was the stunning success of the Marlinton Middle School team.
The 18-student squad, in its very first year of existence, won the tournament’s grade-school division and earned an automatic berth to next month’s National Archery in the Schools Championship in Louisville, Ky.
“It’s pretty amazing, when you consider that the first time most of these kids ever shot a bow was last October,” coach Jody Spencer said. “We had 20 kids come out for the team, and 18 of them had no prior experience. They got better fast because they dedicated themselves to practice.”
Team members practiced on Thursdays and Saturdays through the long, cold winter to prepare for competition. When the gym was unavailable, the kids practiced in a wellness center near the school.
The work paid off. By tournament time, the rookies were shooting like veterans. Spencer said the people of Pocahontas County went gaga over the team’s success.
“They’ve really embraced the kids. People are calling up and donating $100, even $500, to help send the team to Louisville,” he said.
Another feel-good story involved Pickens School, the state’s smallest.
With just 43 students scattered from kindergarten through the 12th grade, Pickens can’t field traditional athletic teams. Its 13-member archery unit is a combination of elementary-, middle- and high-school participants.
The rules allow students from younger divisions to move up to higher categories, so Pickens’ archers all compete in the high-school division. This year’s squad, with only three members in the top four grades, qualified for the high-school nationals.
“That floored me,” said tournament coordinator Krista Snodgrass. “To shoot a high-school qualifying score with a team composed mostly of elementary- and middle-school kids is remarkable.”
Four of Pickens’ 13 shooters qualified individually for the nationals, including fourth-grader Danielle Bond, whose 257 (of a possible 300) ranked second among all elementary-level girls.
One of the tournament’s most eye-catching performances came from Chase Herndon, a sixth-grader at Beth Haven Christian School. Herndon qualified for the nationals in spectacular fashion, shooting a 291 and putting 22 of his 30 shots in the target’s 10-ring.
“That might be a new state record for a middle-school shooter,” Snodgrass said. “To put it in perspective, this year’s winning high-school score was 292 with 23 in the 10-ring. Chase was that close to being the top shooter in the entire tournament.”
Snodgrass said stories such as these are proof positive that Archery in the Schools allows students who might never become athletes a chance to compete.
“Anyone can excel,” she said. “Some kids are athletic, some aren’t. Some kids excel academically, some don’t. The important thing is they’re learning archery, which is a ‘life skill’ they can enjoy for the rest of their lives, if they want to.”
And, perhaps, to relive the feel-good stories they helped to make.